“This is a requirement of the law that the LORD has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke.” — Numbers 19:2
The Torah portion for this week is Chukat, which means “requirement” or “law,” from Numbers 19:1–22:1, and the Haftorah is from Judges 11:1–33.
When it comes to the laws prescribed in the Bible, Judaism places them into two categories. The first group is laws that make sense to us. For example, the requirement to take care of the poor, widowed, and orphaned. The second category is the commandments that we don’t understand, like the laws about the red heifer. This week’s Torah portion is called Chukat, meaning “law” – the kind that we can’t comprehend.
I had a professor who used to explain that the commandments that are incomprehensible to us are not irrational – as in against reason; they are super-rational, as in above reason. Just because we can’t understand it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make sense. It just means that from our vantage point, we can’t see the whole picture.
As human beings, we have a tendency to want to understand. We are created with minds, and we are taught to think, ask questions, and find answers. So letting go of our natural inclination to understand everything that God says and does, or to comprehend the meaning behind the events in our lives, is very hard to do. We want to know and understand. Understanding gives us clarity, a sense of security and control.
However, God doesn’t want us to live in control, and often enough, He challenges us to live without clarity. We are meant to live with faith. And if we follow Him faithfully – even when things don’t make sense to us – we will always be led faithfully.
Most of us go to doctors who give us instructions that we don’t always understand, or pills with ingredients we haven’t heard of. But we take them because we know that they will make us better. Have you ever had a computer technician work on your computer? Most of us haven’t a clue about what they are doing. But whatever they do, it sure seems to work (at least most of the time). In our physical world, we let go of the need to understand all of the time. We need to do the same in our spiritual lives as well.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” We may not understand where our path is leading us, or why there are so many twists and turns, but this week’s Torah portion reminds us that we don’t have to. We don’t have to understand God’s ways, but we do have to have faith to obey and trust Him. It’s those things that we can’t understand that ultimately give direction to our lives.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President